JanTerm Debrief #3–Smart Logistics and Keeping the Temperature Low

IMG_1280In three weeks…

  • 370 separate buses traveled off campus as part of JanTerm and traveled more than 17,000 miles.
  • Westminster students visited Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, California, and Guatemala.
  • Westminster students enjoyed 790 cupcakes, 690 snow cones, and 500 ice cream sandwiches.

Logistics. Success in any complex step forward in a school requires a thoughtful and flexible approach to logistics. The primacy of making the trains run on time is not simply a cliche–it is requisite to garner the support necessary to move forward.

Our first experience with JanTerm was not an end unto itself. It was always part of something larger. As the final part of a two-year rollout of a new daily schedule and school calendar, the JanTerm represents the single biggest curricular step forward in the Upper School since its founding–45 new challenging and varied electives, offered over the first three weeks of January for the entire 820 student Upper School at The Westminster Schools. The new schedule, in addition to adding a JanTerm, includes a later start, longer classes that meet less often, and more time for teachers to work in teams. The schedule falls from the school’s Strategic Plan, and it is a creation of a group we called the Time Task Force, an outstanding group of six faculty members. Over the course of a Spring, Summer and Fall, the Time Task Force did deep research, listened carefully to all the school’s constituents–faculty, students, and parents–and then crafted a remarkable proposal, which both aligned beautifully with the school’s vision and challenged us deeply.

The challenges of changes this significant were and are vast. One of those challenge areas, and the area most relevant here, is visible only when something goes awry–logistics. We were extraordinarily fortunate to have an amazing team who both planned for and then executed management of all logistics during JanTerm.

Key characteristics:

  • An early start on planning.
  • A team sized appropriately to the task ahead.
  • A team that has a good sense of humor, an investment in the success of the project, confidence to handle issues autonomously or to process challenges together.
  • Division of labor, but not so a rigid division that the team cannot process confounding issues efficiently and well.
  • Inventing new organizational systems when necessary rather than trying to stick regular school year systems as square pegs in round holes.
  • A customer service approach that strives to take logistical pressure off of teachers who are in the midst of intensely demanding teaching tasks by greeting everyone warmly, keeping the temperature low when something goes wrong, and solving as many problems as possible before the teacher has to spot them.

Though we never formally named them as such, there was a team of folks that addressed the logistical challenges, large and small. That group had good partnerships with the school’s Business Office, as well as with the other key divisions of the school, including the Office of Institutional Advancement and the Communications Office. Our JanTerm logistics team was made up in alphabetical order:

Gwen Andrews (Director of Administrative Computing), Rick Byrd (Director of Studies), Beth Downes (Assistant to the Upper School Head), Jim Justice (Associate Head of Upper School), Erin Morrison (Upper School Assistant), and Laura-Hill Patton (Registrar).

I learned a lesson from our experience with logistical planning and execution: a kind, smart, and generous logistics team dramatically raises the ceiling of possibility in a moment of school change implementation.

4 thoughts on “JanTerm Debrief #3–Smart Logistics and Keeping the Temperature Low

  1. Timothy Ludwig February 23, 2015 / 9:54 am

    Sounds like organizing Pinnacle boys for an outing to the Smokey Mountain Railroad

    • J Ross Peters February 23, 2015 / 9:58 am

      Quite right…though our buses were less likely to break down!

  2. John Peters February 23, 2015 / 10:49 am

    Fascinating. Good work. Dad

  3. admiral17(RB) February 23, 2015 / 2:01 pm

    Too much credit for the little I did, but I am impressed by the Cinemascope shot of the white board! Thanks for supporting a good idea.

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